Stress Management In Sport

The aim of stress management in sport is to learn methods that can be used to help athletes to control stress and anxiety. Learning to cope with stress and anxiety is vital to an athlete who has to perform in high-pressure situations. The ability to control these feelings of nervousness and apprehension is vital to perform at the top level.

The following are methods of managing stress:

Physical Relaxation

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This involves the deliberate contraction of muscles followed by a greater relaxation
  • Self-Directed Relaxation: Relies on the athlete’s ability to isolate and relax individual muscle groups. This can be improved through practice
  • Deep Breathing: This has calming effects on the mind as well as physiological effects such as reducing heart rate
  • Biofeedback: Observing physiological measurements such as heart rate and breathing rate allow the athlete to focus their attention on reducing these measures

Imagery & Stress Management

Imagery is the use of mental images and scenarios to help relax the mind. This can be either internal (seeing your performance from within your body) or external (viewing your performance as if you are someone or somewhere else). Imagery can be used to relax by picturing a favorite place or calming scene or to rehearse the upcoming performance. Mental rehearsal is thought to be effective on three levels:

  • Neuromuscular: Thinking through a movement produces the correct order and force of muscular contraction, much like a dry-run
  • Cognitive: Thinking through and planning an event in the mind can help the athlete to deal with scenarios as they arise
  • Confidence building: The certainty in the athlete’s mind of what they are going to do during the event, game plans, etc can help reduce anxiety and increase motivation

Goal Setting

Goal setting for stress management in sport is a highly useful and worthwhile technique. Having set goals helps the athlete to:

  • Direct their attention to the task in hand
  • Structure training to meet goals
  • Increase their confidence once goals are achieved
  • Evaluate their performance and progress

However, the goals must meet the following guidelines in order to be effective:

  • They must be challenging enough, without being out of reach. The general rule is to set the goal just beyond the previous performance level
  • There must be a long-term, end goal. These can be reached with short and intermediate goals
  • Goals and achievements must be measurable. The skill/task must be measured when the goal is set and then continually re-measured so the athlete knows when the goal has been achieved
  • Goals must suit both the athlete and the coach in order to get the best out of both individuals

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